Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey
For the 15 years that I have worked for the Baldrige Program, the most common question I’ve heard is, “How do I get my senior leaders to buy in to using/referencing/benchmarking the Baldrige Excellence Framework and its Criteria?” Sometimes that question evolves: “My senior leader was engaged, but how do I convince our new leader to continue using Baldrige?”
A recent Industry Week article put these questions into perspective for me. In
“The Politics of Improvement: The Challenge of Getting Company Leaders’ Buy-In,” author John Dyer breaks the argument into three “tips to bring execs on board.”
1. Provide Education Whenever Possible.
“Executives usually don’t want to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know,” writes Dyer, but “if you work for an executive who is willing to admit that they don’t know something, this level of humbleness is usually a good sign that this person is a true leader, which will bode well for the future of the company.”
Dyer suggests exposing the leader to the improvement initiative (in this case, the Baldrige Excellence Framework), encouraging the leader to attend training, and creating a common language (actually, I’ve heard that creating a common language is a benefit of using the Baldrige process).
I would add a few tips that I’ve read (and sometimes written about) in these blogs, as well as some examples from the recently updated Baldrige FAQs, including one called “Involving Senior Leaders in Baldrige”:
- Meet the leader where he/she is. If he/she is new to Baldrige, don’t just hand him/her the Criteria. Try starting with the Baldrige Excellence Builder, Are We Making Progress as Leaders?, or another tool. Also, introduce him/her to the local Baldrige-based Alliance program and its resources.
- Celebrate small successes and build on them. Show the leader how a process, result, etc., was improved. Remember, the majority of organizations use Baldrige for improvement, not necessarily to apply for an award.
- Introduce your leaders to the leaders of other organizations that have found real benefits from Baldrige. Do this by attending the Quest Conference, a Regional Conference, or a sharing day hosted by a Baldrige Award recipient.
More suggestions on how to start and gain a leader’s interest can be found in the supporting and how-to-use material within the Baldrige Excellence Framework and Baldrige Excellence Builder.
2. Tie Improvement Efforts to Strategic Goals.
“Many improvements may prove difficult to calculate a hard dollar savings,” writers Dyer.
The systems approach of the Baldrige Criteria stresses the linkages among and between core competencies, strategic objectives, workforce plans, financial goals, etc. That is the essence of systems thinking; it’s the alignment and integration of all of the elements of a system that contribute to its future success. Thus, if you use the Criteria as a framework, efforts should always be tied to goals.
To really achieve a goal or tackle an issue, your senior leaders might be interested in the Baldrige Executive Fellows, a nationally ranked executive development program that views leadership through the lens of the Criteria and has as its tangible take-away a capstone project that tackles a challenge, financial or otherwise, at the leader’s own organization.
3. Most Executives Don’t like Being Told What to Do.
“People (executives included) tend to own something they have a hand in developing,” writes Dyer. “Keep in mind, that when a new executive comes on board, you and your teams will probably need to make significant adjustments to the current approach in order to accommodate the new leader’s experiences and convictions. Otherwise, they are likely to shut down the entire initiative. (Sadly, many executives don’t want to support something their predecessor started since they will worry about who will get credit.)”
I’m afraid this is one of the most common reasons for a Baldrige improvement initiative to end at an organization–a new leader wants to put his/her stamp on something new.
Some of the most compelling data to a new leader for sticking with Baldrige are data on two-time Baldrige Award recipients. For two-time winners of the Baldrige Award, median growth in revenue between awards has been 92.5%, and median growth in jobs has been 65.5%. By comparison, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average growth in jobs has been 2.5% for a matched set of industries and time periods for each recipient.
What tips would you add to get executives on board for a Baldrige improvement initiative?